Checking Out Health

Library partners with community organizations to provide free health and wellness activities

Apr. 21, 2017

In a bright, sunlit room at the Edmondson Pike branch of Nashville Public Library (NPL), 89-year-old Dean Stevens is stretching on her mat.

“Do you think we’ll get to be the ‘Yoga Rockettes’ again?” she asks her daughter-in-law, Christine, as she sits down beside her.

“Or maybe we’ll do tree pose; that’s my favorite — as long as it doesn’t last too long!”

Dean likes a challenge. She’s never found one she wasn’t equal to. Lately, stability has become her biggest one.

“So many of my friends are falling,” she explains.

“I almost fell in the strawberry patch the other day, but because I have better flexibility and control over my body, I was able to recover. And that’s because of yoga.”   

Instructor Erika Rigsby flanked by Christine Stevens (left) and Dean Stevens

Cultivating wellness

The Gentle Yoga class Dean and Christine attend weekly is run by Small World Yoga as part of Be Well at NPL.

Created to help people in Nashville and surrounding communities improve their health and wellness, the program was a response to the fact that people wanted to get healthy but didn’t always know how or where to do it.

For those struggling with issues like transportation, housing and employment, it was even more difficult to access resources and activities.

Libraries already address a lot of needs related to health, even though people don’t always make that connection ,” says Elizabeth Roth, program coordinator for Be Well at NPL.

Forty percent of health outcomes are influenced by socioeconomic factors , and 42 percent of people who go online at a public library are doing health-related searches , so people already depend on us to help them find what they need.

“They’re comfortable coming here and asking questions — where to find a doctor, how to do a job search — so there’s a natural foundation of trust.”

A community of health

Building on that, NPL formed partnerships with community organizations like Small World Yoga to create programming people wanted. Yoga was the most requested activity in community polls, followed by stress management, nutrition and children’s activities.

In 2016, the program’s first full year, NPL held nearly 1,000 wellness programs with more than 15,000 participants.

“What’s great about this program is we’re able to partner with whoever the community expert is, and to build on things organically within each community,” Roth says.

  • READing Paws allows young children to build confidence by reading aloud to dogs.
  • For people who want to learn how to feed a family on a budget, Second Harvest offers classes on how to make meals using store-brand and seasonal foods.
  • Belmont University’s music therapy curriculum teaches people how to relax in a healthy way.

“You never know how these things are going to go when you start, especially in branches where there hasn’t been a lot of programming before,” Roth says. “But we’ve had great attendance and referrals, especially with yoga classes.”

“My mother-in-law is actually the one who brought me!” says Christine.

“And now every week, I pick her up and we tootle on down here. It makes me feel fit and helps me shut out whatever is bothering me.”

A program like this is only as strong as its partnerships, Roth says, and having certified yoga teachers who want to give back and build a rapport with students is the dream scenario.

You only have to watch Erika Rigsby, Dean and Christine’s yoga instructor, for a few minutes to know that’s true.

“Come on, Erika, that’s not possible — you must be double jointed!” Christine says, laughing, as they work on a difficult over-the-head stretch.

Erika suggests Christine try moving her hands apart a little more. Christine hits the pose and exclaims, “I did it!” and her classmates give her “great jobs” all around.

“You ladies know you are the highlight of my week, right?” Erika asks as they pack up their mats.

“I look forward to seeing you all next time.”

Photo by Andrea Behrends